October 26, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – Now that the voting age has been lowered to 18 following the implementation of Undi18, it is time the Dewan Negara opened its doors to those over the age of 18 so that the youth can be appointed as members of the Dewan Negara, says Senate president Tan Sri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pic).
With a big mission in mind just four months after becoming the Dewan Negara Speaker, Wan Junaidi said he is looking into creating a special provision under the Federal Constitution to facilitate this.
However, he pointed out that this will not apply to all senators.
“I plan to introduce amendments to the Federal Constitution so that we can appoint youth to be members of the Dewan Negara.
“I propose we create a provision under (Article 45 of the Constitution) to appoint youths aged 18 and above,” he said in an interview with The Star at his office in the Parliament building here on Monday.
Currently, a person must be at least 30 years old to become a senator, but Wan Junaidi said appointing someone over the age of 18 to be a member of the Dewan Negara would allow the government to understand youth issues better.
“This way, we can have some input from the youth and learn from them about their demands.
“For example, a person who is studying in a university and gets elected to head a student union could automatically be appointed senator unless his character disqualifies him.
“The appointments could also include those (who are active) in well-organised youth groups. With this, we can have a bigger representation of the youth in the Dewan Negara.”
At the moment, the Senate consists of 70 senators and Wan Junaidi is on another mission to increase the number of members in the Upper House.
The former Law Minister said he is planning on doing this by adding more women into the fold, as well as having extra representatives from each state.
“For states, maybe increase the number to three each. For federal territories, perhaps we maintain one representative from Labuan but increase Putrajaya to two and Kuala Lumpur could have three.
“To increase women representation, another provision under the Constitution could be created for this purpose.
“We see men all the time and the number of women (involved in decision making) has not increased. We see women dominating many other areas but not at the decision-making level, and so, I would like to see more women representatives (in the Upper House),” he said.
The current membership of the Senate consists of 26 members elected by State Legislative Assemblies to represent the 13 states, with each state represented by two members.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the advice of the Prime Minister, will appoint 44 members including two from Kuala Lumpur, and one each from Labuan and Putrajaya.
Another reform for the Dewan Negara that the 78-year-old former Santubong MP is looking at is to create an Independent Law Committee to scrutinise all the laws passed in the Dewan Rakyat.
“I want to make sure that if the Dewan Rakyat is not doing it (deliberating proposed Bills) properly, then the Dewan Negara will.
“The duty of the committee is to scrutinise every Bill to see whether the Bill is fit to be tabled and that it is not against the Constitution.”
As for the Dewan Rakyat, Wan Junaidi wants to introduce the rules and procedure for vote of no confidence to prevent previous episodes of MPs producing statutory declarations (SDs) to unseat a sitting prime minister from happening.
According to the former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker, he is looking into introducing a provision that will allow a motion of no confidence to be tabled with only a 24-hour notice to the House.
“The Constitution only mentioned if the person ‘ceases to command the confidence of the majority’, but what’s the procedure? How is the confidence extracted? Does it mean we have to send a statutory declaration (SD) to the Agong?
“No. Parliament should decide on matters regarding Parliament. The position of the Prime Minister must be decided by Parliament, not SDs,” he said.
Apart from that, Wan Junaidi said he would also like to devise a method that will allow Private Member’s Bills to be heard in the Lower House instead of being buried in the Parliamentary Order Paper.
However, he said this does not mean Private Member’s Bills can be tabled at any time. Rather, it will see a specific Dewan Rakyat session dedicated to hear the Bills.
“At the moment, there is no procedure for this. Government motions always come up first, so those who bring up Private Member’s Bills never get the opportunity (to table it in Dewan Rakyat).
“I will have to discuss with the Dewan Rakyat Speaker (Tan Sri Johari Abdul) about this.
“We can assign just one week for all Private Member’s Bills, which means in that week, (the Dewan Rakyat) will see nothing but Private Member’s Bill,” he added.
Other countries that also set the age limit of 30 years old to their Upper House membership include Canada and the United States, while the United Kingdom’s membership for its House of Lords is open to those over the age of 21 and 18 for the Australian Senate.
Q&A with Tan Sri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar
THE Star recently sat down with Dewan Negara Speaker Tan Sri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar at his office in the Parliament building to hear his thoughts and bold plans for parliamentary reforms that he is working on.
Below are excerpts of the interview which among others include his plans to appoint those aged 18 and above as senators. Currently, only those aged 30 and above can be appointed as a senator.
The former Santubong MP also spoke against using the Senate as a “dumping ground” for failed politicians.
Do you agree with the views of certain quarters calling the Dewan Negara a toothless tiger?
I like that question but the point is, do you want the Dewan Negara to be a tiger? We are just performing functions based on the Federal Constitution. We have to provide that service according to the functions determined by the Constitution, tradition and convention.
So we are not supposed to be a tiger. Why should we become a tiger and how to be a tiger as an institution that creates law? We are part and parcel of Parliament.
I resent the idea of saying the Dewan Negara is a toothless tiger because we are legislators.
What are your plans to reform the Dewan Negara?
Dewan Negara will have an Independent Law Committee to scrutinise all the laws passed in the Dewan Rakyat. We must be conforming to at least the requirements of the Constitution. Meaning that Dewan Negara members can’t just go blah blah blah like (what’s happened in) Dewan Rakyat – no preparations, no thinking, no research.
I would also like to see the number of members in the Upper House increased, and I want to propose appointing more women and youth into Dewan Negara. We see men all the time and the number of women (involved in decision-making) has not gone up. We see women dominating many other areas but not at the decision-making level.
What sort of representatives you would like to see appointed as members of the Dewan Negara? Often, we see political parties picking loyalists rather than getting the best person for the job.
When the Federal Constitution was created in 1956, information technology, advanced technology and artificial intelligence (AI) were not known. Perhaps we can have those with such knowledge in the Dewan Negara to give the government input on what this is all about.
When the government wants to create a policy, there should be at least one specialist within the Parliament who understands what AI is all about, for instance.
The Prime Minister must work on ensuring this too. When appointing senators, it should no longer become the ground for him to appoint all the politicians who couldn’t get elected. Just because the person is good in his party or a big guy in the party but “tak laku” (unable to win) in the constituency, you want him to become a senator? Dewan Negara can’t be the dumping ground for the rejects.
The other aspect is, of course, the appointment from the disenfranchised group that can never reach Parliament unless they are appointed as senators like the Orang Asli, Penan and Bajau Laut communities, for example.
Section 9 of the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952 provides power to the House to punish contempt of the House. However, the amount of fine stated in the section says it may not exceed RM1,000. Is this amount still relevant in 2023?
This is part of the review. It is going to be in my new bill. The bill is drafted and ready. Hopefully, the government can table it by this month. This figure will be increased because the RM1,000 fine was made in 1953. Can you imagine the amount of RM1,000 in 1953? Now, it’s probably worth around RM20,000 to RM30,000.
We have agreed on the things we want to do. Much of this was designed by (former Dewan Negara Speaker) Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim and I’m following through. Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Johari Abdul and I have agreed so the ball is now in the government’s court.
You recently announced the plan to reintroduce the Parliamentary Service Act and the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act. Any updates on these?
For the Privileges and Powers, we have already discussed with the AGC (Attorney General’s Chambers). We have to amend the old one, the 1952 Act and then we are going to introduce a new one. The only message from the government is that we must look into other models of laws. I’m more keen on adopting either the Australian or the New Zealand’s Privileges and Powers Act, so we are looking into it. I hope we will be able to come up with the new law before the end of the (current) budget session.
And then, of course, amendment to the Standing Orders because Parliament is governed by several pieces of legislation. One is the Constitution itself. Second is the Parliamentary Service Act, and the third is Privileges and Powers. The fourth is the Standing Orders and Rules where I have already laid down the things that I want to amend. I haven’t seen the draft yet because I just talked about it a couple of weeks back and it will take a little time for my legal officers to come up with a draft. Before the draft is sent to the AGC, I will have a look at it.
What other parliamentary reforms are you looking at?
One of the things I’ve mentioned before is that I’d like to introduce the impeachment proceedings procedure for if the Prime Minister does something greatly wrong.
We must be up-to-date with our law. The question whether it’ll be used or not is another story. For instance, in England, the impeachment proceedings process is there, but was never used except around 1880s and the last one was in 2004 and at that time, they couldn’t complete it because they couldn’t satisfy all the requirements. But the procedure must be there.
I have already discussed with my officers on how the impeachment procedure is going to be like but I’m not going to disclose it for now. I’m going to discuss with the AGC. I have discussed with Tan Sri Johari and the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) has already been informed. The detailed procedure is yet to be drafted.
Another one I want to introduce is the rules and procedure for the vote of no confidence. I am going to draft the rules that will allow the vote of no confidence to be made. I want to introduce a provision so that it can be tabled with just 24 hours’ notice by the Opposition Leader.
What about the possibility of this being abused by one side of the aisle who may table the vote of no confidence repeatedly?
That will be at the discretion of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker. The Speaker can make (his judgment) and ask: “How could you table this last month and now you want to table it again tomorrow?” The Speaker’s decision will be final.
But the Speaker cannot reject the first vote of no confidence tabled. You must be given the opportunity (to table it).
You were about to explain more about other parliamentary reforms you wish to introduce before I cut you off with the last question.
I am also thinking of making a procedure for the sitting of Parliament when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong makes a decree. Remember during the Covid-19 (lockdown)? His Majesty repeated it twice, I believe, asking for Parliament to sit but it didn’t because under the Standing Orders, only the Prime Minister can call for Parliament to sit during off-time.
Parliament of Malaysia is in session in April, July and October, and the rest of the time is called the recess time. During the recess time, only the Prime Minister can call for Parliament
So if the King calls for a meeting during recess time, there’s no procedure for it.
I want to create a procedure in the Standing Orders to say that, as and when His Majesty decrees for Parliament to meet, the palace will send a letter to the Speaker and the Speaker will inform the Prime Minister. Note here that I said “inform”, not to get consent (from the Prime Minister).
You mentioned to me earlier about making the Cabinet accountable to Parliament. What are the plans for this?
There must be a committee to oversee the government, and Commonwealth countries call it the Departmental Select Committee. (Former Dewan Rakyat Speaker) Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof started the committee in 2018 but it was half-heartedly done. I told him: “Tan Sri, you should start with amending the Standing Orders. Make a provision to say that Parliament can appoint a committee.”
When the budget is passed and the ministries are given the money, how do they spend the money? This is why sometimes we see some states being isolated like Kelantan from the 1980s until finally around 2009 during (former Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s time. Before that, the state was marginalised because it didn’t share the same (political views).
The Special Select Committee we have now, its authority and powers are based on the motions of the Dewan Rakyat and that doesn’t bind those on the outside, just MPs. That’s why when some of the chairmen (of select committees) complained about government officers refusing to come to Parliament, it’s because the government officers knew that it (the committees) have no power to call them up. They know they don’t need to comply.
So the government is happy because nobody is supervising them. They can do what they like. They built roads using money that was approved for building bridges and so on because the tradition is that, the government does not want to be supervised.
They are ministers, so why should they be supervised by you? Why should the Cabinet be told by Parliament this or that is wrong?
This is why the Speakers of those days didn’t want to get involved in this. They were worried about not being appointed again but I don’t care. If they want to remove me tomorrow, they can do that. I’ve got to do the right thing. I’m expecting the government to support me on this because I cannot stand in the Dewan Rakyat and table the law. I have suggested and discussed this with Tan Sri Johari.
As a former Member of Parliament yourself, do you believe MPs should focus more on carrying out their legislative and constitutional functions instead of having to act as a state assemblyman, ketua kampung and perhaps other roles that the constituents expect them to take on?
An MP has to pass the budget, create laws and pass laws made in Parliament. You have to deliberate on the budget and tell the government what’s wrong with the budget. You have to perform the function of Parliament and the Constitution dictates you to do so but here, we have not done that properly.
MPs must know his duties do not include looking at ditches and drains. That’s the work of the local council and state assemblymen. You are part of the bigger group on the top. You must be talking about policies. You need to see that proper balanced development is done, what are the facilities and amenities that the government must provide for the people not only in Kuala Lumpur and the big cities, but also rural areas because they too pay taxes.
How do they deal with the expectations of voters wanting to see their MPs on the ground then? The MPs may be worried that their votes will be affected in the next election.
That is because we developed the practice and at the end of the day, MPs become state councillors. The MPs themselves have to make the changes instead of going to every funeral and wedding. In my 32 years as MP, I rarely do all those things, maybe just two or three times a year.
You train your constituents. My way is different and they understand that. Otherwise, if I am expected to go to all weddings, I’ll go crazy. So it all depends on the MPs. I was shifted from Batang Lupar to Santubong (parliamentary seats) and yet people still supported me. So it’s not about people’s demands. It is you who try to be close with people by doing that, it’s your mistake.